The message from Brenda Luscombe, Director of Niagara Health’s Colorectal Screening Program, is simple: Get checked…
“Getting checked for colon cancer helps find cancer earlier, when it may be easier to treat,” says Ms. Luscombe. March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. And Niagara Health, in partnership with Cancer Care Ontario, is encouraging you to get checked with a take-home test.
Colon cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Ontario and the second most common cause of cancer deaths. It is estimated that in 2016, 9,900 Ontarians were diagnosed with colon cancer and about 3,200 Ontarians died from the disease.
However, when caught early, nine out of 10 people can be cured. “It’s recommended that men and women at average risk between the ages of 50 and 74 get checked with a fecal occult blood test every two years,” says Ms. Luscombe, who is also Director of Clinical Services, Oncology and Ambulatory Services at Niagara Health. “This test is safe and painless and can be done at home. Many people don’t realize that colon cancer can be there for a long time before you show any symptoms, which makes it important to not only get checked, but also repeat the take-home test every two years even if you feel fine.”
How to check for colon cancer
You can check for colon cancer with a fecal occult blood test (FOBT). The FOBT is a safe and painless cancer screening test that checks a person’s stool for tiny drops of blood, which could be caused by colon cancer. Take-home FOBT kits are available from healthcare providers. People without a family doctor or nurse practitioner can get a kit through Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-828-9213, community pharmacies and mobile screening coaches. Once the samples are collected, they can be sent to a lab for testing using the postage-paid envelope provided in the kit or by returning the kit to a specimen collection centre.
Who should be checked for colon cancer?
People between 50 and 74 years of age without a parent, brother, sister or child who has been diagnosed with colon cancer are considered to be average risk for the disease and should get checked every two years with the fecal occult blood test (FOBT). People with a family history of colon cancer in a parent, brother, sister or child are at an increased risk for developing the disease. These individuals should be checked with a colonoscopy (instead of an FOBT) beginning at age 50, or 10 years earlier than the age their relative was diagnosed, whichever comes first. Some people who have had polyps removed from their colon, as well as people with inflammatory bowel disease (i.e., Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), may be at increased risk for developing colon cancer and may need to be checked regularly with colonoscopy.
Benefits of getting checked for colon cancer
Screening helps find colon cancer early, when there are no uncomfortable symptoms such as persistent diarrhea and stomach pain, and when treatment has the best chance of working. When colon cancer is caught early, nine out of 10 people with the disease can be cured. If colon cancer is caught after it has already spread to other parts of the body, treating it is harder and less likely to be successful. For people whose colon cancer has spread, as few as one out of eight will be cured.
For more information about colon cancer screening in Ontario, visit www.cancercare.on.ca/colon.
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